More keyboard experimentation
Nov 01, 2006

A while ago I switched to the Dvorak keyboard layout. I haven't mentioned it much since then here, but the switch has stuck.

I've started another keyboard experiment as of yesterday. The Caps Lock key is effectively useless, and in a prime keyboard position. Some people like putting Control on that key, but I think that's because many keyboards actually had a Control key there, thus making it a habit, not a logical choice.

The thing I like about Dvorak is that your hands don't go flying all over the keyboard. I thought about the key that actually sends my hands flying most often, and being a child of the computer era (not the typewriter era), that key is... backspace. I probably use backspace as much as or more than some letters (cough), but it's up there on the corner, basically requiring my entire left hand to leave its position. (I can theoretically reach up there without my left hand moving but in practice it does.) No amount of analyzing text can turn that up as a commonly used key. As a Dvorak user, I've obviously already jettisoned "habit" as a criteria for my keyboard layout.

So, I've mapped Backspace to Caps Lock. I did that once before but I didn't switch because I habitually used the old key; this time I completely unmapped the old backspace key, so at the moment hitting it does nothing at all. I've actually made the transition now.

It was much faster to learn than Dvorak, and so far I like it. I don't know if I'll stick with it long term, but we'll see. The other thing is that you can try this without switching to Dvorak, it's completely independent of that.

Biggest problem so far: Accidentally hitting "Tab" instead. Tab is used to change the focused widget in UIs, and accidentally hitting Tab, followed by other keys, is a real pain. Biggest pain: Tab'ing out of a textbox in a browser, then hitting Backspace, which is a keyboard shortcut for the back button. I'm considering remapping tab onto the old backspace key (Tab is more useful to me than average thanks to emacs but the way I use it is still as a control key, not a typing key), and then that opens up the Tab key for something useful. However, I'm holding off to see if the accuracy problem doesn't solve itself with practice to see if I need to make that change.

Biggest benefit: You don't lose your left hand home positioning so you can probably recover more quickly from mistakes.

As I write this I realize that there may be an even better setup than using Caps Lock for backspace as there is something I use even more than Backspace, which is Shift. If this change is stable, I may remap Tab to Backspace, Caps Lock to a Shift, and the current Shift to Control. Heh, dropping even one key from the standard mapping really opens up possibilities. Why not optimize something I spend so much time using?

Oct 31, 2006

I semi-seriously considered doing NaNoWriMo, but I decided it wasn't a good idea to stack that on top of my other hobby programming projects I'm undertaking. I did get as far as the first sentence:

Ph'rillar hated his name.

Read the rest (681 words)

Oct 29, 2006

From the "poor timing" department w.r.t. my "not time to panic about civil liberties" post, Bush signed some sort of martial law law, which I have not had time to analyse, but certainly set the Slashhorde off. (Not that that takes much; the Slashhorde has the political acumen of a five year old; even when the horde is right, it's by accident.) Link goes to Slashdot because the summary seems to contain useful links that are down now (even a day after posting, some other site must be shutting it down, maybe Digg); you can try later.

On the other hand, the ACLU has dropped its challenge of the Patriot act, citing "improvements in the law". If even the ACLU is no longer upset, one would imagine it's not so bad. This post cynically theorizes that the reason for dropping the lawsuit is crassly political, which if true leads me to the conclusion that the ACLU never really cared and it was always political. So, in the interests of granting evidence opposing my claim the most credence possible, I'll take the ACLU at its word.

Remember, "over-reaching law passed, over-reaching law challenged, over-reaching law fixed" isn't proof of the impending collapse of civilization, it's merely the system working as designed.

(As for the worries about Bush doing something nasty with Martial Law, I ask you, what could he really do? He's not even remotely charismatic enough to function as a dictator, as so many people seem to worry about. Moreover, he's already a weak President at the moment; he'd have even less base to function on as "The Guy Who Destroyed America". I can't think of a single person who'd support him in that role, and I doubt even the military would follow him if he tried to do something that grossly unconstitutional. Me? I may look like a Bush supporter to a Bush hater, and to somebody who insists on living in a black-and-white world where you hate him or love him with a passion, I might look like the latter, but I'm nowhere near "love", let alone "unconditional love". If he did something stupid with martial law, or suspends elections for a dumb reason for too long*, I'd be joining the March On Washington or whatever other counter-measures would be taken by the people, and I suspect a lot of "Bush supporters" would do the same. The only real power he has is a military that has taken an oath that implies, among other things, that they can't help him take over the country in contravention of the Constitution.)

(*: Actually, even suspending them makes no sense. The only reason to suspend elections nationwide that I can think of would be a biological attack that has already spread nationally, where the polling places could spread the disease. This seems unlikely, plus this also implies the nearly-complete shutdown of our society anyhow (schools closed, shopping curtailed, etc.), and this shutdown would probably come from the people, not the Federal Government, which couldn't possibly react quickly enough. Most other events would be local, and we already can extend elections for local reasons, which would seem like the real solution. Based on this logic, my tolerance for suspended elections would be extremely low, and again, I doubt there are many people at any level, anywhere, who would support Bush in any attempt to muck with our elections. God help Diebold executives and anyone they've been working with if anybody ever proves they've been manipulating elections.)

Oct 22, 2006

I'm continuing work on my new weblog system, which should allow commenting and just generally modernize things.

I've got the basic HTML rendering working, but I've got to write the RSS feed now, and categories aren't quite up yet.

I really ought to scare-quote "write" because it's hardly worthy of the term. Throwing together a weblog with Django is pretty trivial. For instance, Django has a module for generating RSS so I won't really be "writing" RSS support so much as hooking it up to my particular idea of what an "entry" is. So far I've only had one complaint about Django, which is that the admin site doesn't quite handle properly normalized databases as well as I'd like. (I wanted to have a "text" table, that entries, comments, and other things could link to, but I couldn't convince the automatically-generated admin site to make text creation and entry creation into one step.) I can see why people coming from Java would get so excited about Ruby on Rails.

I'm pretty impressed; there's a couple of things I'd do differently and I'm going to need to check character encoding because I'm not convinced it's doing the right thing and generating UTF-8 all the time, but overall it's an extremely solid platfrom.

Banking Program NYT correction
Oct 22, 2006
My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.

Read the rest (1117 words)

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